Archbishop Alexander Sample explains the benefits of the Amazing Parish program at the summer session in 2021. (Courtesy Amazing Parish)
Archbishop Alexander Sample explains the benefits of the Amazing Parish program at the summer session in 2021. (Courtesy Amazing Parish)
“Cenacle” is another word for the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Tradition has it that the Last Supper happened in the Cenacle. The apostles continued to gather there after Christ’s death and Resurrection, and it’s where the Holy Spirit came to the apostles on Pentecost.

Now imagine your parish as cenacle, a center for “reclaiming Christianity’s beginnings in the Acts of the Apostles” — with “a goal of changing the culture to a more vibrant living of the faith.”

That’s how Father Ken Sampson, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Medford describes the Amazing Parish movement.

More prosaically, Amazing Parish uses the framework of management training that Catholic business consultant Patrick Lencioni uses with blue-chip business executives. That training is repurposed for parishes.

While individual parishes from around the nation have taken part in the Amazing Parish program, Archbishop Alexander Sample has urged every parish in the Archdiocese of Portland to take part. Only three other dioceses are participating as a whole like that.

Msgr. John Cihak, pastor of Christ the King Parish in Milwaukie and director of continuing education for priests, said the Amazing Parish program is part of the archdiocese’s new and transitional pastors’ workshop every year.

“This has proved to be effective and provides a common vocabulary going forward,” he said. “This is how we do things in the Archdiocese of Portland. It works in businesses but also in parishes.”

The training could and does fill books but at its most essential it helps parishes to cultivate three cultures: healthy teamwork, active discipleship and unceasing prayer.

Father Sampson traveled with a leadership team from his parish to an Amazing Parish summit in Kansas City last summer. He was one of about 20 priests from the Archdiocese of Portland. Father Sampson had no idea that he would become such a strong supporter.

“It was fantastic,” he said, explaining how the training helped him personally and professionally. He believes Sacred Heart has become a more functional and spiritual parish because of Amazing Parish principles put into effect there.

Father Sampson and the Sacred Heart team are returning to Denver this summer for a second training.

Supporting the pastor

The Amazing Parish transformation begins with the pastor — not because he’s boss but rather because the pastor is the essential servant to the parish.

“Whenever there’s a bottleneck it’s the priest that’s the problem,” Father Sampson said. “I know that for me, I’m spread too thin.”

Amazing Parish has helped.

Father Sampson praises his leadership team who meet with him weekly. “It’s nice to have an additional support group right in your parish,” he said.

Msgr. Cihak agrees. With the team at Christ the King, he said, “I don’t feel like I’m all alone. I have people walking with me.”

Msgr. Cihak describes the program as working through concentric circles: the leadership team, volunteers and apostolates, parishioners, “ultimately the world.”

“It works because it has to do with being human,” he said. “Its tools are being vulnerable, honest, and having tough conversations instead of letting issues fester.”

Msgr. Cihak said the program takes a while to work but it has revitalized staff at Christ the King. “All of us have benefitted personally from it and it’s helped us be better at our jobs and our mission.”

Father Sampson now uses more of a collaborative leadership model. He’s found he has more time to lead, because others are managing more and because he now has time to discern where he should be spending his time.

Coaches out of the Amazing Parish offices in Colorado meet with pastors enrolled in the program up to twice a month to discuss challenges.

Discipleship and prayer

A second change at Sacred Heart, said Father Sampson, is the culture of evangelization he now sees.

When people give personal testimony about how God is working in their lives, that takes opening up and vulnerability. That, in turn, makes for a more welcoming parish.

“We’re testifying by our behavior that we care about you and welcome you,” said Father Sampson.

But perhaps the most important change that has come to Sacred Heart Parish because of the Amazing Parish program is prayer.

“Praying always,” Father Sampson said.

Prayer isn’t just that first bit on a meeting’s agenda, there’s a culture of prayer at Sacred Heart. What’s more, it’s not just prayers where someone else wrote the words.

“Spontaneous prayer from the heart is a little more foreign,” admits Father Sampson. “But it’s powerful. Everyone who comes into the office knows they’re going to be prayed with. I meet parishioners in the parking lot and we pray together.”

The telephone interview with Father Sampson went long because of his enthusiasm. Before saying goodbye, however, he asked how things were going in Portland.

And we prayed together.